This is a guest post written by Brendan Bachmann, a visiting library science student from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
Over the last few years there has been an explosion in meat substitute product popularity. The “fake meat” industry is thriving, and it is predicted by some to become worth $140 billion dollars in the next decade. But meat substitutes are far from new, as a pamphlet that has recently made its way into our collection demonstrates. Let’s explore the early days of fake meat through the late 1920s pamphlet, “The Battle Creek Diet System.”
In 1876, a young John Harvey Kellogg became director of what was shortly after renamed the Battle Creek Medical Surgical Sanitarium. Over the next several decades under his leadership, it became one of the most popular health resorts in the United States, growing to more than thirty buildings on thirty acres of land in Battle Creek, Michigan. Here, it is well documented that Kellogg experimented with a wide variety of health treatments as part of his philosophy of “Biologic Living,” some that are considered visionary (exercise, fresh air and foods with live bacteria), and others that range from slightly strange (electric light bathing, vibration and slapping machines, continuous bathing in water which could last days if deemed necessary) to somewhat disturbing (yogurt enemas, genital mutilation to prevent masturbation).
Kellogg was particularly concerned with the importance of diet and thought that eating bland, vegetable and grain-based foods reduced the risk of a range of health issues. He was a vegetarian and did not serve meat at the Sanitarium, believing that it lessened physical strength and harbored bacteria. Based on these beliefs, he experimented with creating his own bland health food products and feeding them to Sanitarium patients. Kellogg’s modern fame is due in large part to his involvement in the creation and popularization of modern breakfast cereals. From 1877 onwards, Kellogg ran various food companies, selling to former patients and the general public the foods served at the health resort. The mail order based “The Battle Creek Food Company” was the venture responsible for the pamphlet in our collection.
He began working on a meat substitute around the mid-1890s, purportedly after discussing the issue of supplying adequate protein to the world’s growing population with Dr. Charles W. Dabney, USDA Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. According to researchers, it took Kellogg a lot of experimentation to get a product that held together and wasn’t acrid or sour. Eventually he was successful, using combinations of nut and wheat products. The first Sanitarium product to be marketed as a meat alternative was Nuttose, the “perfect substitute for flesh food,” which first became available in 1896. The next product was Protose, produced from both grains and nuts, which was patented, trademarked and made available around 1899.
As evidenced in our pamphlet, these meat alternatives were still on sale thirty years later, and Kellogg continued to strongly advocate their benefits. For Nuttose, a “rich meaty flavor” was touted. Protose held the lofty claim that it ”looks like meat, tastes like meat, smells like meat, has the composition of meat and even the fiber of meat,” and that it is “…in every way superior to the flesh meats.” There was also Nuttolene, which had ‘the consistency of cream cheese, a meaty flavor and composition.” The rest of the pamphlet promotes the philosophy and benefits of the Battle Creek Diet System, as well as advertising a variety of other Kellogg food inventions, including substitutes for chocolate, cheese, and coffee. Also advertised is peanut butter, and it is little-known that he patented the process of making it.
John Harvey Kellogg remained actively interested in developing alternative meat products until late in his life and was involved in various capacities with the Battle Creek Sanitarium until his death in 1943. The Great Depression resulted in significant declines in the Battle Creek Sanitarium’s patient numbers, although it managed to stay in business until the start of World War II, when it was purchased by the US Army and used as a military hospital. Today, it is the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center. Remarkably, Protose remained in production for a century, only leaving the market around 2000. Today, fake meats are again on the rise, this time with soy products at the fore – but before you take a bite of your next meat-free burger, take a moment to remember the long history of meatless meat.
For more information about John Harvey Kellogg and the Battle Creek Sanitarium, the following may be useful:
- Books at the Library of Congress: John Harvey Kellogg, M.D.: Pioneering Health Reformer by Richard W. Schwarz and John Harvey Kellogg and the religion of biologic living by Brian C. Wilson
- Kellogg also wrote many books himself, available in the Library of Congress. Try using an author search for Kellogg, John Harvey, 1852-1943 in the catalog.
- John Harvey Kellogg’s papers, many of them digitized, are available at University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library.
- Want to try and make your own Protose? Food bloggers have attempted to clone the recipe.
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